Youth protection officials failed suicidal Salluit teen, Quebec coroner concludes

The coroner looking into the death of Rhoda Tunu Parr, 14, concluded Quebec's youth protection service provided inadequate followup after the teen had expressed suicidal thoughts. He said it could be symptomatic of a larger problem in Nunavik.

Inadequate followup with Rhoda Tunu Parr could be symptomatic of larger problem in Nunavik, says É​ric Lépine

Flags in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik's administrative centre, fly at half-mast after a young person died by suicide in late October. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

Quebec's youth protection services failed to provide adequate followup with a teen in foster care who had expressed suicidal thoughts, a coroner has concluded.

Coroner É​ric Lépine​ said what happened to 14-year-old Rhoda Tunu Parr could be symptomatic of a larger problem across Quebec's Inuit territory of Nunavik.

Parr died by suicide in the summer of 2017.

In his report, Lépine recommends that Quebec's Commission on Human and Youth Rights evaluate how authorities handled Rhoda Tunu's file.

"We can call this a failure, at least in terms of how her intervention plan was handled,"  Lépine said in an interview with CBC News.

Court order ignored

Rhoda Tunu, described as smart but introverted by her case workers, lived a tumultuous last few years.

Her mother moved from Nunavik to Montreal in 2016 and maintained little contact with her daughter.

Rhoda was bounced from foster home to foster home in Salluit, Quebec's second-northernmost community, from the time she was placed in care until her death, two years later.

She was often absent from school, particularly in 2016 and 2017. She'd told authorities that she was bullied there.

A court ordered that the girl undergo a psychological assessment in 2015, when youth protection first got involved with her care, but it never happened.

"It wasn't a question of choice, it was an order. The order wasn't respected," Lépine said.

Lépine said a psychological evaluation might have helped authorities better evaluate the girl's needs, although there is no way to know whether an intervention would have prevented her death.

In his report, Lépine also said youth protection workers failed to follow up with Rhoda in the three weeks preceding her death, even though they had been notified by her foster family about suicidal remarks she'd made in December 2016.

"A closer watch would have been justified," Lépine wrote.

In addition, according to a police report, a notebook was found after Rhoda's death, foreshadowing the teen's suicidal intentions.

Inadequate help in Nunavik

Lépine wrote that social services "remain clearly insufficient" in Salluit and other Inuit communities throughout Nunavik.

In an interview with CBC News, he said his report focused on Rhoda Tunu's death, but in the course of the investigation, he determined that the the regional health authority responsible for youth protection in Nunavik has a lot of difficulty recruiting and retaining staff.

The regional health authority that oversees youth protection in Nunavik calls Rhoda Tunu's case a "deeply regrettable situation," adding that the case is currently under investigation and that it will co-operate with the investigation. 

At least 15 Inuit young people, including one still in elementary school, have taken their own lives over the past few months in Nunavik.

Two weeks ago, community leaders held emergency meetings in Nunavik's administrative centre of Kuujjuaq to discuss ways of dealing with the crisis.